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Exhibit Outtakes: Beer Coolers are Scientific Instruments

October 4, 2012

by Helen Chappell

Though we Museum exhibitionists are ultimately responsible for what our exhibits say and how they say it, we always consult the science experts.  We certainly like to think we’re crazy smart people, but even so, we can’t possibly know everything about every topic in the exhibits.

Depending on the specific exhibit we’re working on, sometimes we draft the text and design first and ask for expert feedback; other times, we ask for text and images from experts first and then do our own edits.  It’s always an iterative process, with multiple rounds of edits from both us and the science experts.  A lot of the time, we end up having to trim out content that we really love.  Today’s post is the first in a semi-regular series of “Exhibit Outtakes,” where we give you a chance to see what we loved but had to cut.

Our “Windows on Research” interactives in the new Nature Research Center are one case where we get content from scientists and then edit it.  If you haven’t seen Windows on Research, come by and check it out on the Nature Research Center’s second and third floors!  It’s a chance to meet the Museum scientists—both as people and as scientists—and to look at the tools and techniques that are crucial to their research.

Photo of interactive display

“Windows on Research” is literally on the research lab windows. The funny purple spots are a reflection of our third floor’s giant glowing DNA strand.

Our Paleontology and Geology folks recently handed us lots of content about the tools and techniques they use most often, like sieving screens, quarry mapping, jackhammers, air scribes, and lots more (you can see a few listed in the image above, if you look closely).  Sadly, there was one tool they submitted that we couldn’t include in the interactive: the beer cooler.

Below is the text and image we got from the scientists.  Betcha didn’t know beer coolers were so important to research, huh?

Beer Cooler

What is it?

Beer coolers are insulated boxes that hold various beverages, though mostly beer, keeping them ice cold in the desert.  In a pinch, a standing body of water (or mud pit) will do.

Photo of scientists relaxing in water

Scientists demonstrate proper use of an improvised beer cooler.

Examples of use:

Paleontologists require relaxation and proper body cooling after long, hard days pounding rock in the desert sun.  Cold beer obtained from beer coolers or mud pits provides both.  The biggest disadvantage to most beer coolers is that they are not large enough to hold beer for more than one day, though this is not a problem with mud pits.

Bottle openers are not required to open our beverages.  Instead, paleontologists use items such as lighters, silverware, rocks, other beer bottles, chairs, car doors, bumpers, hammers, and in desperation, teeth.

You can read all about our paleontologists’ and geologists’ adventures in the field—including how they use beer coolers and other tools—at their blog, Expedition Live!, or at the Museum’s Research and Collections Blog.

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